After getting off of the train in Nantes, France, we were delighted to know that it would only be a few more miles until we reached our destination. We had been traveling for what seemed like forever since we left at 5:50 p.m., flew 8 1/2 hours, waited two hours for the train, rode it for over two hours, and then had a short 45 minute drive to Linda's home. The time change didn't help much either...since we were technically seven hours ahead of what we had left...which would have been fine...except that we hadn't really slept the night before.
Or the night before that because we were trying to pack, do last minute details, or were just generally excited about the trip.
We arrived at Linda's home - technically known as "Chateau de L'Aubraie" - located somewhere in the Vendee region of France. Since I hardly know Georgia (where I grew up) or Alabama (where I landed) geography, I won't pretend to have even a remote clue where that is...except that it is somewhere approximately 2 1/2 hours southwest of Paris.
We pulled into the driveway and were immediately greeted by my niece and nephew, Tara and Alex, and their brothers Amaury, Benjamin and Engie. Of course, we knew that we were REALLY being welcomed when Tara showed up in tights, a ballet costume and everything short of a tiara...and rainboots.
C'mon...you know that's cute. Because it totally is.
We put our suitcases down and were shown to our rooms...which were inviting but also large and spacious. We climbed the staircase and enjoyed the cool air...especially refreshing after a summer of ridiculous temperatures.
We went outside and looked at the garden...at the huge pumpkins that Linda plants each year for the Halloween Party that she will do for the local children including games and costumes. It is now something that the children look forward to...much like we enjoy Fall Festivals at our local schools and churches.
See those pumpkins in the background? There are at least two dozen of them. And a couple of them are huge!
We enjoyed the garden...which has every fruit tree on earth (including kiwi...I kid you not) and at least thirty five tomato plants...all of which had the most beautiful red tomatoes hanging off of them that you can imagine. All different varieties...even some black ones!
Bonnie picked a couple of zucchini that were absolutely massive. All I could think of was how much zucchini bread I could have made with these.
Here are some photos of the house. Beautiful, isn't it? Part of the structure has been used since the 1200s, and the Clemenceau family has owned the property for the past several hundred years.
See the pretty blondes? My sister and my mother.
Linda has been working on the garden by the house...stunning.
Does this not look inviting? Yes. Yes it does.
I suppose that when you are traveling, you don't really expect to have a time in your trip that is peaceful, beautiful, and just comfortable. We were really lucky that we did. After the trip we took six years ago...I vowed that I would begin my next trip at Linda's house because we were so exhausted after six days of sightseeing...and jet lag...and rain...that I thought it would just be great to start out refreshed.
Just so you know...after six days of sightseeing...it matters not what shape you were in when you embarked.
Unless you count basic good physical shape. Yeah, that would have helped.
Anyway, we had time to visit, to eat healthy food that was grown in the garden and to just enjoy life at a pace that we don't normally get to experience. One of the offerings was beets...a food that I have just refused to eat along with apple rings, liver, and anything that looks like lawn clippings. And for the record...fresh beets really aren't that bad.
I actually had seconds. True story.
We sat in the kitchen at the massive table that Linda and Eric have to seat everyone and we started trying to figure out some of the words that would help us survive four days in Paris. For instance - the word "poulet" means "chicken." And "poisson" means "fish." Reviewing this actually came in handy.
Except that even as we were doing this...Bonnie was still under the impression that we were in a house outside London with my flight-attendant sister. (Just kidding, Bonnie...if you are reading this...I couldn't resist. :))
We stayed at Linda's for three days...as we took walks to the garden, fed the chickens, jumped on the trampoline (okay, that was Bonnie and my mother), and just breathed. We slept well and ate wonderful food, we rested and just enjoyed the act of breathing in and breathing out. Time moved slowly as we just sat on lawn chairs and stared out into the beautiful park that is to the rear of the house. We listened to the sounds of children playing, and the dinner bell beckoning us in for a meal that we had absolutely nothing to do with preparing. It was the best kind of vacation...if truth be told.
The last night we were there, Linda's husband, Eric, cooked some steaks that I refer to as "Fred Flintstone steaks" because that's what they look like to me...that were absolutely delicious. We were outside in the park when the dinner bell rang and were on our way in to eat when we noticed that the chickens had gotten out and were meandering all over the yard. Tara had fed them earlier...and the little "chicken whisperer" had failed to secure the gate. We spent the next ten minutes trying to get the chickens (and the two roosters) back in the pen. Technically, Tara was trying to get them back in the pen, Linda was shooing them in with a badminton racquet, Bonnie and Mom were herding them, and I was pretty much laughing...because I totally suck as a chicken herder...just so you know.
Here's the "Chicken Whisperer" in action.
I realize that I am in none of these pictures. And that's okay. Trust me on this.
We left Linda's after three days of relaxation...and took off on Ryan Air out of LaRochelle, France to London. It was a pretty uneventful flight and a really great start to the trip. Plus...there was the added bonus of English being spoken.
I remember in the LaRochelle airport seeing a beautiful young woman who worked for Ryan Air that looked exactly like I imagine my niece, Tara, will look in about fifteen years. Same green eyes and blonde hair...and the same beautiful smile.
I think that sometimes when we are in a foreign place, we tend to look for those things that are familiar to us. Like Coca-Cola's in the airport...and people speaking English. Of course, if you are my mother, you take any opportunity that you are free to make a new friend. She made two in line at Ryan Air...a young man with dark Auburn hair named Patrick and a petite brunette girl named Natalie. They were headed back to London after traveling around...and they talked to us for about thirty minutes or so. Actually...we found them again in the London airport as we were being herded to baggage claim and customs.
Before we left LaRochelle, Linda told us that we had to have our passports stamped by the "douane" - pronounced "doo-on." Of course, the word looked like "Duane" to me...so we referred to every officer who questioned us either entering or exiting the country as "the Duane/Dwayne." I'm quite sure that my ability to shift an unfamiliar word into something I can actually remember is why I am absolutely hopeless at languages.
More on the London trip in a day or so...thanks for reading...